Recently I had a first hand experience of how a small and entrepreneurial business, such as those run by many IFAs, can be affected by unexpected events.
In February I was struck down by what at first seemed an innocuous but annoying virus but which developed into an illness which pretty much put me out of action for over a month. Of course, as the head of a small hands-on firm, and the only IFA in the practice, I struggled in to work believing I was indispensable until it became clear that things were going from bad to worse and there was only one way I was going to rid myself of the virus and that was to stay at home in bed.
Bearing in mind we were in the middle of the most crucial period in the year, i.e. approaching the end of the tax year and Isa season, dealing with the situation was crucial and it brought home the value of building a strong team around me, which could manage effectively in my absence.
Why things did not implode
Financial advice is a people business and building a strong business is as much about the quality and the calibre of the people in the team and how they work together as it is about providing a service to clients.
As soon as it became clear we had a situation to deal with our staff began taking on extra workload and putting in the hours to ensure the business continued to operate efficiently and the elements I would normally handle were properly dealt with.
What helps in this situation is having good processes and systems in place so everyone knows what needs to be done and can get on with the job efficiently and effectively. As a business we have been very pro-active in establishing these processes and the time and effort put into them paid off.
Key among those processes was having a robust client contact programme so that we knew exactly when client meetings were due and what was required for each one. This allowed us to plan ahead of time and where I wasn’t able to attend a client meeting we contacted clients to explain the position and reschedule our meetings. Where clients needed immediate advice or required an urgent meeting, we contacted our Locum IFA who kindly dealt with these issues.
As a business we also make full use of technology to make things easier. We operate a VPN (virtual private network) which allowed our part-time administrator to work extra hours from home. This meant the workload could still be handled and the administrator was able to fit in the additional hours with minimum disruption to her usual routine.
But of all these things, what was essential during the time I was out of action was good communication with clients. My incapacity severely limited providing a full service to our clients but if you are constantly dealing with people and have a good relationship with your clients you know they will be very understanding as long as they are kept informed. Our team made sure clients were kept abreast of the situation and everything was done that could be done to ensure they received an acceptable level of service.
This was an unprecedented event for the business and placed it under a great deal of pressure. If I have learned anything from the situation it is that I have a great team of people who stepped up to the plate and took on the responsibility of running the office in my absence.
What is key for any successful small IFA business is for the IFA to make himself or herself dispensable – the business should not fall apart if the IFA is not there to run the show and deal with the clients.
I am glad to say that all the hard work we have put in over the years at Affluent, in terms of implementing processes and systems and investing in technology and, most of all, employing the best people, paid off when we needed it most.